From the Chicago Reader (November 27, 1992). I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) argue that this treat is necessarily Coppola’s best movie, for reasons given below, but I wonder if it might actually be his most pleasurable, at least on a moment-by-moment (and shot-by-shot) basis. The new Blu-Ray edition only adds to and enhances the richness. — J.R.
BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by James V. Hart
With Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, and Bill Campbell.
Geographical spread accounts for some of the major differences between the film culture in this country and the various film cultures in Europe. While overseas the principal film-production centers and intellectual centers are usually located in the same cities — Paris, Rome, London, Madrid, Lisbon, Stockholm, Budapest, Prague — most of the United States stretches between our main film-production center, Hollywood and environs, and our main intellectual center, New York. The practical consequence is that our left hand hasn’t the faintest idea what our right hand is doing.
So much for the geographical split. What might be called the institutional gap is even worse. I’m referring to the profound lack of communication between the film industry (including most movie reviewers) and academic film studies (including intellectuals in adjacent or related fields).… Read more »
The third chapter of my book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See (Chicago: A Cappella Books, 2000). The cover below is that of the U.K. edition published by the Wallflower Press. To set the context, the book’s previous chapter is called “Some Vagaries of Distribution and Exhibition”. — J.R.
A much more common and systematic method of obfuscating business practices in the ﬁlm industry, especially in blurring the lines between journalism and publicity, is the movie junket. Here’s how it generally works: a studio at its own expense ﬂies a number of journalists either to a location where a movie is being shot or to a large city where it is being previewed, puts the journalists up at fancy hotels, and then arranges a series of closely monitored interviews with the “talent” (most often the stars and the director). The journalists are then expected to go home and write puff pieces about the movies in question, run in newspapers and magazines as either reportage or as a classy form of “ﬁlm criticism.” If these journalists don’t oblige — and sometimes obliging entails not only favorable coverage, but articles with particular emphases set by publicists, articles that screen out certain forbidden topics and hone in on certain others — then the studios won’t invite them back to future junkets.… Read more »
Chapter Two of my book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See (Chicago: A Cappella Books, 2000). The cover below is that of the U.K. edition published by the Wallflower Press. — J.R.
How often are aesthetic agendas determined by business agendas? This question is not raised often enough.Terminology plays an important role here. For example, once upon a time, previews of new releases were called “sneak previews” because the titles of these pictures weren’t announced in advance. Most industry people continue to use the term, despite the fact that the titles are announced and even advertised, so that the original meaning gets obfuscated: the only thing “sneaky” is the fact that they’re called “sneak previews.”This is a relatively trivial example of how terminology alienates us from what goes on in the world of movies. A more signiﬁcant example is how we use an extremely loaded term like “independent.” An independent ﬁlmmaker traditionally meant a ﬁlmmaker who worked independently, free from the pressures of the major studios. If you believe what the media say about independent ﬁlms, then the mecca for independent ﬁlmmaking would be the Sundance Film Festival, an event where independent ﬁlms and ﬁlmmakers congregate annually.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 10, 1997). — J.R.
Compiling a list of the best new (or “new”) movies that opened in Chicago in 1996, I’ve come up with 40 titles, half of which are foreign-language pictures. Many of my colleagues would regard choosing so many foreign movies as perversely esoteric, but it’s hard for me to fathom why. I willingly concede that this country has one of the strongest national cinemas in the world — probably the greatest, which is fully reflected in my including 19 American films in my list and only 5 from France; 3 from Taiwan; 2 apiece from England, Hong Kong, and Iran; and 1 each from mainland China, Denmark, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, and Vietnam.
Of course I haven’t seen nearly as many non-American films as American, but I’ve made a stab at seeing those that have made it to Chicago. I have long been bewildered by how the majority of my colleagues almost never mention any cinema that isn’t English-language when they draw up their end-of-the-year lists. Is American cinema really that wonderful and non-American cinema really that awful? Of course not; the reason most reviewers don’t include foreign pictures on their lists is that they don’t see them.… Read more »
From the April 17, 1998 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed by Ann Hui
Written by John Chan
With Leon Lai, Wu Chien-lien, Anita Mui, Ge You, Annie Wu, and Huang Lei.
I don’t know exactly what I think about Ann Hui’s 12th feature, playing twice this weekend at the Film Center. At this point I don’t think it’s a masterpiece — though that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t see it. Arriving at these two conclusions is something of a professional necessity for me, because whenever I write a long review for this paper I have to assign the film a certain number of stars; if you look at the box headed “film ratings” the meaning of those ratings is spelled out, from “masterpiece” (four stars) to “worthless” (none). But sometimes this necessity presents me with a dilemma, because my better instincts tell me that it’s often impossible to know immediately after seeing a film whether it’s a masterpiece or not. And while I’m at it, let me confess to another doubt, one that relates to the general inflation of rankings that infects my profession, whether critics are reviewing a Hollywood blockbuster or a Hong Kong art movie: I fear that if I tell people that Ann Hui’s Eighteen Springs (or the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski) is only “worth seeing,” a lot of them won’t bother to go — even if maybe some of them should, for their benefit, not mine.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 13, 1998). — J.R.
It’s remarkable how over the course of just three nightlife features — Metropolitan, Barcelona, and this comedy set in the early 1980s — writer-director Whit Stillman has created a form of mannerist dialogue as recognizable as David Mamet’s, a kind of self-conscious, upper-crust Manhattan gab reeking of hairsplitting cultural distinctions. Fortunately, this time around the Ivy League characters project less of a glib sense of entitlement, making them more fun to watch, and Stillman himself gives more evidence of watching rather than simply listening. The characters include two young women in publishing (Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale) who find a flat together, their roommate (Tara Subkoff), an employee at the club where they hang out (the always interesting Chris Eigeman), a fledgling ad executive (Mackenzie Astin), a junior assistant district attorney (Matt Keeslar), and a lawyer (Robert Sean Leonard). Stillman does interesting things with all of them. 113 min. (JR)
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I’m still recovering from the rude shock of hearing about the death of Chantal Akerman this morning (October 6, 2015).
The following was originally published in Retrospektive Chantal Akerman, a publication of the Viennale/Austrian Filmmuseum, 2011, and the second issue of the online Lola (lolajournal.com), 2012. — J.R.
Does one’s integrity ever lie in what he is not able to do? I think that usually it does, for free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man [sic]. — Flannery O’Connor
If I have a reputation for being difficult, it’s because I love the everyday and want to present it. In general people go to the movies precisely to escape the everyday. — Chantal Akerman
A yearning for the ordinary as well as the everyday runs through Akerman’s work like a recurring, plaintive refrain. It is a longing that takes many forms: part of it is simply her ambition to make a commercially successful movie; another part is the desire of a self-destructive, somewhat regressive neurotic — Akerman herself in Saute ma ville (1968), La chambre (1972), Je, tu, il, elle (1974), and L’homme à la valise (1983); Delphine Seyrig in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975); Aurore Clement in Les rendez-vous d’Anna (1978); Circé Lethem in Portrait d’une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles (1993) — togo legit and be like “normal” people.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1994). Perhaps my biggest error in this review is my assumption that all the leading characters in Metropolitan are male. — J.R.
The second comedy feature (1994) of neocon writer-director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan), who shares with Eric Rohmer a talent for literate and witty dialogue and a fascination with photogenic young women but has a somewhat less confident sense of milieu and story construction. As in Metropolitan, the leading characters and principal source of amusement are wealthy, self-absorbed, and virtually interchangeable American males (in this case a salesman and his cousin, a naval officer), though here they’re transplanted to the Barcelona jet-set nightclub scene, where they explain to their girlfriends and each other (as well as to the audience) how misinformed the Spanish are about the U.S. Considering how successfully they seem to colonialize all the young Spanish women in sight, regarded by heroes and movie alike as obliging pieces of furniture, one subtext seems to be that Europeans are basically first-draft Americans hungrily awaiting stateside revision. Still, this is fairly amusing stuff — brittle, fresh, and impudent –if you can stomach all the upscale arrogance. With Taylor Nichols, Chris Eigeman, Tushka Bergen, Mira Sorvino, Pep Munne, and Hellena Schmied.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 10, 1990). Even though this is favorable, I think I underestimated the achievement of this first feature; reseeing it a quarter of a century later, in preparation for a very enjoyable public Skype conversation with Whit Stillman held at the Gene Siskel Film Center, it looked much better and much richer, and the tenderness shown towards almost all of the characters is indelible. — J.R.
Whether it’s “accurate” or not, Whit Stillman’s crafty independent feature about wealthy Park Avenue teenagers and a middle-class boy who joins their ranks over one Christmas vacation is certainly well imagined, and impressively acted by a cast of newcomers (including Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Christopher Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, and Elizabeth Thompson). The simple but offbeat form of the film — which concentrates mainly on a series of social gatherings among a circle of friends, separated by fade-outs — has its awkward moments, but the charm of the actors and the wit and freshness of the dialogue (which touches on such subjects as Jane Austen, romance, and class consciousness) keep one interested (1990). (Fine Arts)
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My DVD column for the Fall 2015 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.
Practically speaking, we should invent our own extras, not necessarily or invariably depend on those that are made on our behalf. To cite four examples of what I mean:
(A) According to normal usage, Icarus Film’s DVD of Frederic Choffat and Vincent Lowy’s 44-minute Marcel Ophuls and Jean-Luc Godard: The Meeting in St-Gervais contains no extras. But according to my own usage, this DVD itself functions as an extra to a 100-page book that I own, Dialogue sur le cinéma: Jean-Luc Godard & Marcel Ophuls, published by Le Bord de l’Eau in 2011. That book, prefaced by short essays by Vincent Lowy and André Gazut and concluded by Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s essay for Le Monde, ‘Mon ami Godard’, transcribes two encounters between Godard and Ophüls, held in 2002 and 2009 (the first of these focusing more on Marcel’s father Max), whereas the DVD includes most (but not all) of the second of these dialogues, and somehow manages to leave out some of the more interesting parts, either through cuts or incomplete subtitles. Which doesn’t mean that Icarus’s release isn’t worth having — only that its contents are worth contextualizing beyond the material offered by Icarus.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 12, 1991). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Todd Haynes
With Edith Meeks, Larry Maxwell, Susan Norman, Scott Renderer, James Lyons, John R. Lombardi, Tony Pemberton, and Andrew Harpending.
“The whole world is dying of panicky fright,” reads the title that opens Todd Haynes’s startling and original Poison. It’s a correct and judicious observation, one that helps to “explain” a fascinating and provocative movie, particularly if one sees it alluding directly to the specter of AIDS.
But if one starts to enumerate the symptoms produced by panicky fright in our culture, I’m afraid that the usual set of liberal grievances — greed, intolerance, xenophobia, repression, classism, sexism, racism, homophobia, war fever, and flag waving — doesn’t quite exhaust them. Some of the most cherished and least controversial emblems of postmodernist discourse — irony, stylistic pastiche, and a foreshortened sense of history and politics, all of which are usually employed together — may be symptoms of panicky fright as well. While the list of liberal grievances points to a fear of the world (especially the social world) as it is, postmodernist discourse suggests a fear of discourse (especially art) as it used to be and as it might be once again — a fear of unambiguous self-expression that implies another way of refusing to confront the present directly.… Read more »
One of my first long reviews for the Chicago Reader (September 11, 1987). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Juzo Itami
With Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Koji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Nobuo Nakamura, and Mariko Okada.
True, we eat to preserve ourselves from dying. But cooking, the moment of preparing foods . . . is a pause in the most relentless of natural processes, a moment when the process is retarded, when the food exists as itself, no longer a dead thing, not yet assimilated to a living thing. It exists in a moment out of time, and can therefore become a source of esthetic pleasure–small, fleeting, often deceptive, yet a true esthetic object. So brief is its moment of objectivity, this bit of food, that it quivers with the life it came from and with the life it goes toward–and yet, always, it partakes of a stillness that transforms time. The raw stuff has become food–worked upon, transformed by love and care, made proper with a name–and it is a part, if of a stew, of all other stews ever made and ever yet to be made. It partakes of the true Platonic stew. It is a miracle made by a cook to circumvent decay and death, in the quiet knowledge that the task is impossible.… Read more »
I can’t recall when this was written or what occasioned it (apart from the initial reviews of Eyes Wide Shut when it opened in 1999). — J.R.
Much of the negative critical response to Eyes Wide Shut came from indignant New Yorkers who felt their city had been misrepresented — worst of all, by a native of the Bronx and onetime Manhattan resident who had dared to expatriate himself. “It’s difficult to make a movie about a city you last set foot in 35 years ago,” J. Hoberman wrote in the Village Voice, sidestepping the hypothesis that Kubrick’s last film might be about something else — some elusive, shifting city of the mind, perhaps, as shared by the fearful dreams and imaginations of a married couple. Similarly, Stuart Klawans’ complaint in The Nation that he couldn’t buy “a Village jazz club with a tuxedoed headwaiter and a last set ending at midnight” overlooks the possibility that Kubrick couldn’t either, any more than he could believe in an intersection in that same Village of Miller and Wren — two nonexistent streets even when he lived in the city.
The film is full of such “off” details, and not simply because all of it was shot in an English studio.… Read more »
From the December 1981 issue of American Film. I was quite unhappy with the way this article was edited at the time, but having discovered my original submitted draft quite recently (in mid-November 2011, 30 years later), I’ve decided to resurrect it here, including my own title. (Theirs was “Looking for Nicholas Ray”.)
My working assumption in restoring original drafts on this site, or some approximation thereof, isn’t that my editors were always or invariably wrong, or that my editorial decisions today are necessarily superior, but, rather, an attempt to historicize and bear witness to my original intentions. It was a similar impulse that led me to undo some of the editorial changes made in the submitted manuscript of my first book, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980), when I was afforded the opportunity to reconsider them for the book’s second edition 15 years later (now out of print, but available online here) — not to revise or rethink my decisions in relation to my subsequent taste but to bring the book closer to what I originally had in mind in 1980. – J.R.
By and large, the last three decades in the life of film director Nicholas Ray can be divided fairly evenly into three distinct parts.… Read more »